Over at Jezebel, Anna North blogs the story of transgendered woman Temmie Breslauer who was arrested on January 12 by the NYPD for the misdemeanor charge of using her father's discount subway fare card. Soon after, Breslauer alleges that "The arresting officers — the suit names one, Officer Shah — laughed at her" and asked about the status of her genitals. Then, says Breslauer's complaint (which Gothamist has in full):
"[S]he was fingerprinted, seated on a bench, then painfully chained to a fence wherein, for no apparent reason, her arm was lifted over her head and attached to the fence to make it appear that she was raising her hand in the classroom. She sat there in that position for 28 hours.
She also says officers not only refused to call her "she," they instead referred to her as "He-She", "Faggot," and "Lady GaGa," and asked her "So you like to suck dick? Or what?" Meanwhile, people arrested for the same minor crime (misdemeanor "theft of services") she was were calmly processed and allowed to leave. Finally, she was able to go before a judge, who gave her two days of community service. She says the whole ordeal aggravated her existing PTSD and left her sleepless and suicidal.
Breslauer's suit names the City of New York, Officer Shah, and several other officers as defendants. It accuses them of assault, battery, false imprisonment, and violation of Breslauer's civil rights, and asks for compensatory and punitive damages.
A transgendered man who was arrested at that massive Occupy Wall Street Brooklyn Bridge protest last fall alleges similar harassment and painful handcuffing by the NYPD. And it's not just transgendered individuals; after Pittsburgh G-20 in 2009, several women who were arrested said they were leered at and harassed by police, with calls from one officer to separate the women and "get the hot ones out" and several accusations of excessive pat-downs. Another woman at G-20 said she heard an officer threaten to put a male arrestee in with "Bruno" who would make the man "his girlfriend." (Prison rape is not just for horribly unfunny comedies and police officers who were apparently auditioning for said comedies, it's also for 90,000-plus actual prisoners a year.)
This isn't just about women or transgendered people; it's not a demand for politically correct accommodations (though cops should recognize prisoners who might be in more danger and decline to toss them in with the general population). This is about excessive punishment for minor crimes and it's about (sadly relatively) small petty, nasty abuses of people who are in a vulnerable position. Anybody in handcuffs in police custody is in a vulnerable position. They might be innocent, or guilty. They might be afraid (I know I would be). They might know that regardless of cops' freedom to indulge their dislike of transgendered people, or their misogynistic tendencies, or their racism, or maybe just general misanthropy, people die in police custody for all sorts of reasons. Or, famously in the case of Abner Louima (NYPD sighting!), they might just get beaten and then raped.
This isn't some Law and Order: SVU-type interrogation of a suspected child killer or serial rapist. There was no gain for the officers perpetuating this treatment except a bored, twisted power trip; a desire to make their prisoner uncomfortable and afraid. There's no way to spin that except deny that it happened at all. But as North pointed out, other transgendered individuals say it has happened to them as well.
Mike Riggs blogged a horror story a few months ago on what happened to a transgendered woman while she was being held in an immigrant detainment center awaiting deportation back to Mexico.